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The Film
The opening scene of a Bond film is always more spectacular and explosive than the last, and this must be a real hardship for the writers and directors. Luckily though, this film is no exception and features an incredibly long opening sequence. After the expected 'looking down a barrel' opening we arrive on a beach in North Korea. A little too over the top this bit as it has our hero surfing onto the sandy dunes. Just a few short minutes later and he has already stolen a diamond filled briefcase and is riding a helicopter into an enemy barracks. After landing he quickly hands the briefcase over to the corrupt Korean officer General Moon, however unbeknown to him he is betrayed and discovered to be a British assassin. British assassin's apparently aren't too popular in North Korea as he is immediately sentenced to death; however Bond being Bond, escapes and starts blowing things up.
<br><table width="385" border="0" bgcolor="#000000"><tr height="162"><td width="100%" align="center" valign="middle">Die Another Day</td></tr><tr><td width="100%" align="center" valign="middle" class="whitetext">Get a hair cut - hippy...</td></tr></table><br>
Hovercraft are used to glide over the American laid minefields and Bond seeing this as his escape boards one, takes his opportunity and flees. More explosions and some incredible driving on these floating monsters leave one bad guy dead (Colonel Moon played by Will Yun Lee), and Bond captured by Moon's father (General Moon played by Kenneth Tsang). Bond is then sent to be tortured (queue opening credits). Then, the credits roll on. The credits as you may know are played to the Madonna theme. It might be a good pop song but it is not a good Bond song. The credits on the other hand are incredible and in a first for a Bond film, part of the film is intertwined with the credits and so amongst writhing female bodies we are shown scenes of Bond being subjected to various forms of torture. By the time the credits have ended the film is already sixteen minutes in.

Bond is then 14 months later, delivered to the British and Americans in exchange for a Korean prisoner since it is believed he is haemorrhaging information to the Koreans. M (again played by Judi Dench) informs him of this and that his cost came of too higher price. He was traded for the terrorist Zao (played by Rick Yune) who was present all those months ago when Bond destroyed the Korean barracks. Since then he had murdered several Chinese agents at an embassy and the British were reluctant to give him up. James Bond’s career is over and he is to be sent to the debriefing centre in the Falkland Islands. Obviously if this happened it would be a pretty short film so Bond uses the skills he was trained to use and escapes from M and the British to mainland China with a personal vendetta - to find out who set him up.

So again we see Bond out on his own, except this time he knows what strings to pull and where. Finding Zao does not prove too difficult and with a little help from the Chinese government, Bond embarks on a mission to Cuba. More specifically to a small island retreat off the mainland on which resides a special clinic allegedly there to help people extend their lives. This is where Bond meets the curvaceous Jinx (Halle Berry) in a scene reminiscent to that of Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) from Dr. No in 1962. Bond has been in prison for a long time, however luckily he still has that magic touch to get Jinx into bed in a matter of minutes. She is obviously very easy and no, I am not jealous. Anyway, without giving away any of the main plot lines too severely, mayhem ensues and lots of things explode in flames. Beautiful women, fast cars, fiery detonations – yep it’s a Bond film alright!
<br><table width="385" border="0" bgcolor="#000000"><tr height="163"><td width="100%" align="center" valign="middle">Die Another Day</td></tr><tr><td width="100%" align="center" valign="middle" class="whitetext">"Get out of my film you rubbish song writing tart!"</td></tr></table><br>
Die Another Day wasn’t received that well with the movie going crowds after receiving bad reviews from both audiences and critics, and why was that? Well it’s starting to get a little too American. Jinx was an ok character but was quite annoying at times and she was such a strong character it seemed like focus was trying to be taken away from our leading man. She has more one liners than any “extra” in a Bond film ever, and what with the plethora Bond himself has to say in this film, there really are too many. One of the best comes from John Cleese as Q:

<table width=385><tr><td>Bond: You know, you’re a lot cleverer than you look.<br>Q: Better than looking cleverer than you are.</td></tr></table>

What else was wrong with this film? Well, some of the effects are just too unbelievable (however not as stupid as xXx) what with Bond surfing (it’s just not reserved and British I’m afraid), and the para-surf gliding bit is beyond belief – I was not impressed with that. However the car chases and hovercraft scenes are just fantastic. Excellent choreography and beautiful wide panoramic scenes of two tiny cars in the distance in a chase across the blue and white of the icebergs is just immense. The hovercraft opening scene is also fantastic with these huge lumbering machines making wide sweeping arcs as they drift across the muddy plains of Korea, sorry Aldershot.

Acting is .. well its Bond. Brosnan again does well in hiding his soft Irish accent which is present on the commentary. Oscar Winner Halle Berry managed to annoy me several times in the film however Rick Yune who play’s Zao was great. Theatre actor Toby Stephens (son of Maggie Smith) turns in a reasonably solid performance as Gustav Graves but I still do not find him imposing enough to be a Bond baddie. John Cleese is only present for a short amount of time but he has a couple of good lines and it’s lovely to see the Aston Martin back in a Bond movie - especially after the hair dressers car in Goldeneye! So while not a storming film, it is a fun romp through the world and as expected the story is not too taxing on your little grey cells, to coin a phrase “It does exactly what it says on the tin”. It’s an action adventure and it is executed well enough to be enjoyed and while the over used American actors tend to bug the hell out of me, I will let it slide as Brosnan is a good nay great choice out of the available actors, to be James Bond.

Video
Well what can I say? It’s a big budget film and big budget films generally command exceptional transfers and unsurprisingly this does not differ from this unwritten rule. Presented in 2.35:1 and of course, anamorphically enhanced the print shows no artefacts at all and I did not spot any problems with grain. The colours are at times a little bland however this is not really a complaint as the recent multi-techni-colour releases such as 'the pretend Bond' film xXx really were over the top on colour. The colours here are more true to life, but in some places I wanted them to be a little brighter; for instance in the ice chase I wanted the blues and whites to flare out a little more. We do learn from one of the special features however that digital grading has been used throughout the film to alter the colour for various scenes. Perhaps this was used to excess in places?

"Be Careful - I'm an expert marksman"
Audio
DTS. The first Bond movie on DVD to have a DTS soundtrack, and man is it loud! It’s not just how loud I have my amp, this really is a loud soundtrack. I remember thinking in the cinema about how unbelievably loud the explosions were and those have been faithfully reproduced here on this MGM DVD. This is an action movie and from that it deserves, nay requires monstrous DTS powered detonations and gun fire. Definition is good and voice levels are for the most part fine, however at times a little too low. This tends to result in me turning the volume up slightly only to be deafened just minutes later in an action scene. It also results in the neighbours coming around to hurt me - and then sit down and watch the rest of the film with me! I was impressed with most aspects of the soundtrack, except the menus. All my other Bond DVDs have Dolby Digital 5.1 in the menus. This release has only Dolby Stereo which infuriated me. The menus as always are well designed and give a first impression of the rest of the quality of the DVD presentation. It was a shame that they did not go the extra mile and make the menus totally rock my world.

Extras
This is a two disc affair and therefore this section is going to be longer than a list of Peter Stringfellow’s conquests. If you don't know who he is - lucky you!

Disc 1
First up is a commentary with James Bond himself Pierce Brosnan. While listed as a commentary with him and Rosamund Pike, she does not join in until her character appears in the film. Brosnan’s comments feature mainly on the production from the actors point of view so while he comments on certain set pieces and the design/troubles had with each shot his comments mainly reside on his direct experience with each scene. However that’s not to say his soft Irish accent does not articulate any words of wisdom, far from it. I enjoyed his anecdotes regarding the hovercraft and that driving them was like “riding a bar of soap”. He mentions that his son who he took to the set was a lot more concerned with the wellbeing of the Ferraris and Porsches than his dad. We also learn that Michael Madsen lives next to Pierce on the beach (alright for some!) and about how unromantic lying on top of Halle Berry was in the love scenes with Lee Tamahori under the covers with them filming. Pierce also mentions how strange it will be when he finally walks away from the role and sees someone else takeover as will inevitably happen. You have to sympathise with him here as putting so much work into a series of films developing a character and then having that taken away from you must be quite gut wrenching. Bit of a shame that both their commentaries seem to have been recorded separately as the moulding together of them is a little disjointed at times.

Breathtaking
The next commentary features both director Lee Tamahori and co-producer Michael G Wilson. Similar items are covered in this commentary however they go into a lot more detail since they were obviously more involved behind the scenes. Imagine what it is like to actually blow up and destroy a real helicopter instead of a fake model - thing's do not get done half heartedly in a Bond production! The commentary covers a lot more information than the actor's efforts so while the actor's might have the more recognisable voices, the director and the co-producer get the award for best Die Another Day commentary track (sorry Ms. Pike!).

The last extra on the first disc is an interesting little feature call the MI6 DataStream. This trivia track features various tit bits of Bond, production and set information including the real locations of various set pieces (rather than Korea, for instance) and pointing out little homage’s to previous Bond films which are frequent in this movie. However it is not all just tiny bits of trivia. At around eleven minutes into the film, the main feature minimises down to a small section of the screen while the rest is taken up with a short interview with John Richardson (Model Effects Supervisor) who explains the use of models in this particular scene. There are also some behind the scenes shots of the crew capturing the scene. This is great and the first time I have seen this type of extra used in DVD. There are several parts like this in the trivia track at appropriate intervals and scenes.

Disc 2
First up on the extras disc is “Inside Die Another Day” a series of seven short documentaries which can be watched all in one seventy five minute marathon, or individually. These are broken up as follows:

[*]Intro and Surfing
[*]Hovercraft Chase
[*]Cuba
[*]Quartermaster
[*]Ice Palace
[*]Car Battle
[*]Post-Production and Finale

Each of these takes a few minutes to look behind each scene and reveals more and more about how these exciting scenes are created. The surfing scene which is first up on the list on film looked good but not too special in my eyes. The behind the scenes stuff really made up for this since the technology both in front and behind the camera becomes more apparent which is where the magic of making films starts to really impress. The hovercraft section directed by Vic Armstrong really is supreme and it’s great to hear him talking about it. Brosnan is obviously enjoying himself and often has time for a little quip with the camera (“They never get me!” referring to Bond’s daring escape from the Korean barracks). I certainly did not notice that the scene shot in “Cuba” was actually shot in a very rainy and cold Spain. Fortunately a few days of sun made the key scenes work. It’s these sort of problems that plague modern blockbuster films, so while explosive action is no problem the most basic of things, the weather, can still run amok with shooting deadlines.

The Quartermaster documentary or Q documentary (did you know Q stood for Quartermaster?) pays tribute to the now passed, Desmond Llewelyn and features interviews with John Cleese which is a pleasure to watch. Director Tamahori talks about all the gadgets from previous Bond films that made it into Die Another Day as part of the homage for the films 20th episode.

That's some nasty acne, sunshine
The Ice Palace section deals with the glamorous Ice Palace of the film and features interviews with both writers as well as both producers (Barbra Broccoli and Michael Wilson) and the production designer Peter Lamont who actually went to Sweden to stay in the ice hotel which is built every year entirely of ice. From this, the ice palace in Die Another Day is constructed with sugar glass and candle wax to make icicles on top of a concrete base with huge welded steel girders. It’s hard to imagine a structure so large just built for half an hour of movie footage which is strong enough for a two car chase. Unfortunately the interview footage of Rosamund Pike is presented in the wrong aspect ratio so her beauty is squished into an incorrect frame and she has that amusing feature of “fat head”.

My favourite part of the film is next, the car chase. Two incredible machines race across glaciers in Iceland surrounded by icebergs. Tamahori explains the potential problems using a real life glacier for this electrifying chase while Wilson describes the alternatives available for this including Alaska where they have no work permit to film. In typical Bond style, at the last minute the ice in Iceland is now strong enough to hold the cars. On the way to Iceland the 18 ton bus carrying the wardrobe for the production was actually blown off the road in the gusty winds. Some excellent footage of the cars dancing on the ice is also presented which was not shown in the main feature. A truly scary place to film with a wind chill of minus twenty two degrees.  
 
Post production is the final segment. For better or worse CG now features very heavily in Bond, from aeroplanes and huge lasers to blue screening stunts and rendering James Bond himself in 3D. The water effects get discussed at length and while some still do not look that realistic, some are really very impressive indeed. The final aeroplane sequence is also shown and broken down which is quite interesting as the whole scene used a “miniature” plane with a twenty foot wingspan (“Impressive wingspan!”) which was fascinating since while a CG plane was used in the shot, it was only used to overlay the already filmed miniature for the disintegration sequence. Finally we hear from editor Christian Wagner who was the first and hopefully last American editor to work on a Bond movie. As he puts it, it was his job to take the footage Tamahori shot and make it “a little bit stylised”. So, all those annoying slow motion parts of the action sequences are this man’s fault. Tamahori describes his style as “progressively modern” and if that is what is behind all these annoying slow motion Matrix style “eye candy” then I hope they have learnt their lesson as it really does not have a place in a Bond film. The only place in the film I believe this style works is the car ice chase in which it helps add to the excitement and sense of speed. In his defence he (Wagner) does speak about how he does not like to cut scenes for the sake of cutting, since a long crane scene portrays the director’s vision for the film and that is how it should be left. For this I commend him.

<br><table width="385" border="0" bgcolor="#000000"><tr height="162"><td width="100%" align="center" valign="middle">Die Another Day</td></tr><tr><td width="100%" align="center" valign="middle" class="whitetext">If only all Aston Martins did this</td></tr></table>
Composing master David Arnold gets some screen time here also as he delves into the sound for Die Another Day in “Music to Save the World By”. You can tell from the look on his face when he talks about the opening ten seconds of any Bond film that he loves his job. After working on several Bond films, it must be hard to traverse the same roads as before but to try and keep the music original and fresh, and yet still utilising the existing rifts that make the music easily identifiable as that of Bond. He even mentions the use of the surround speakers in this film and how during scenes the music whips round the sound stage. Perhaps a slight sound of frustration in his voice as he explains how while he has free reign, the chains and rules of the Bond subject matter mean he cannot experiment as much as he perhaps might want to.

This entire feature is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen which is another great thing about this terrifically interesting feature (which includes only an English language option and English/Dutch subtitles).

Mission Deconstruction starts with a section called Scene Evolutions which features a comparison of the hovercraft and car chase and their relevant storyboards. This can be accessed using the angle button on the remote control or via the original menu selection.

Inter-Action Sequences features four different action sequences all available in multi-angle video. These are the gritty hover-craft chase, the vicious sword fight, the car ballet and the fight between the hero and his enemy aboard the aeroplane as well as the two leading ladies at the films climax. Viewing stuff in different angles is excellent. A welcome addition to the DVD set.  

Title Design explores the construction of the films title sequence – always important in a Bond film and especially in Die Another Day as for the first time in a Bond film, the title sequence is used to tell a story, in this case the torture of 007. It’s incredible to see the sequences being put together piece by piece – where the inspiration comes from for these extraordinary sequences is beyond me. Running for ten minutes, this is a truly mind blowing feature for people who stare at these sequences and wonder how they are constructed. Unfortunately it is not as easy as it looks otherwise we’d all be doing it.

Too cool
Digital Grading is a process where you scan the film into a computer, fudge about with it to adjust the lighting and other various effects and then dumping it back to film. It’s an incredible process which adds blue to skies, darkness to waves, shadows to Bond and de-saturates the military scenes for a feeling of dull grey and steel. Running for three and a half minutes by now if you cannot tell, I am really enjoying these features a lot.

The Equipment Briefing menu contains five short sections which detail several of Bonds spy toys including the surf board, the watch, the jet glider, the ultra-high frequency ring and of course, the Aston Martin. All CG with a voice over, these features took a lot longer to make than they did to watch.

The Image Database features photos broken down into several sections – Cast Portraits (Brosnan, Berry, Pike, Stevens, Yune, Cleese and Dench), Special Shoot (shots for ad campaigns), Sets and Locations (where the film was shot), Stunts and Special Effects (shots detailing the various SFX and the behind-the-scenes shots of these used in the movie) and Vehicles & Gadgets (a selection of pictures of the stunning cars as well as the other vehicles and the gadgets created for Die Another Day).

The Ministry of Propaganda is the advertising section which features the trailer, two teasers, a TV spot, the Madonna music video as well as the Making of the Die Another Day Music Video. Also included is a trailer for the unrelated Electronic Arts video game Nightfire as well as the Making of Nightfire (Do MGM own EA? – it wouldn’t surprise me at all) and finally a trailer for the James Bond Special Edition DVD collection (complete with an annoying American voice over which is enough to make me cry).

The feature entitled Region Two Exclusive (imaginative) is as you might be able to gather, exclusive to those of us in region two land. This fifty one minute documentary goes into the history of creating a Bond movie from script to screen. Interviews with both producers and the writers really show how the structure is hammered out for a Bond movie. Filmed as the process moved along, it is interesting to see this evolve into the final product as a director is found, and the script is finalised. I smiled when I saw a table at which the director, special effects supervisor, action unit director, the model unit supervisor and production designer (amongst others) seated together as here resides an astounding combined filmography which is enough to make any film advocate sit up and take note. An interesting perspective is presented by a storyboard artist who’s job it is to get inside the directors head (not literally) and come up with storyboards for scenes. While his (the artist’s) vision is not always (is rarely a too strong a word?) realised, when it happens he feels a sense of elation.  Chris Corbould gets a chance to speak to the camera here being head of special effects he explains the role of his department not just being explosions, but also the related weather effects and of course, the cars. I was interested to hear how the proclaimed title “Beyond the Ice” was actually just created by a magazine and never even a working title for Bond 20. The title or rather lack, of features heavily throughout the documentary.

<br><table width="385" border="0" bgcolor="#000000"><tr height="162"><td width="100%" align="center" valign="middle">Die Another Day</td></tr><tr><td width="100%" align="center" valign="middle" class="whitetext">The classic Bond temptress</td></tr></table><br>
Some good footage and mini interviews with Corbould and Armstrong as well as things like test footage for the hovercraft scene make this documentary great for post film viewing. We also find out what happened to the character Gala Brand (inspired by a character from the Moonraker novel) who evolved into Miranda Frost. I liked the comments made by everyone as they search for a place to film the car ice chase especially production manager (action unit) Terry Bamber’s comment:

<table width=385><tr><td>“We didn’t let a mealy mouthed Welsh minister stop us filming on the Thames, and we’re not going to let the fact that the ice lake’s not frozen stop us on this!”</td></tr></table>
Brosnan’s talk about how “un-Bond” he is, standing there in Spain in the freezing wind and rain in a blue fluffy dressing gown and a pink hot water bottle was pretty funny (as he walks of into the rain with a man carrying a large umbrella above him).

Again, this is presented in 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced which is great as documentaries often tend to be in a pathetic 1.33:1 which is really quite annoying when the main feature is in widescreen. Region two exclusive everyone, finally we get one over on our region one counterparts. A few clips from this feature elsewhere on the DVD which is a bit of a pain however for the most part, it is a feature in itself, exclusive and “for your eyes only”.

Also I wanted to mention that the opening Bond moment in which 007 walks across the screen and a gun barrel targets him, in my opinion has now been ruined. A few years ago this scene was made all spangly with a CG gun barrel however now they have had the inkling to add a rubbish computer generated bullet to it. It looks awful and I hope they remove it from any future films (the director's mentions on the commentary that this is a one off to help commemorate both the 20th film and the 40th anniversary of the series).

An example of the MI6 Datastream feature
Overall
So, another Thunderball, or another Octopussy? Well to be honest, its getting toward xXx with all the American film style starting to really become evident however there is enough ‘Britishness’ here to keep the film down to earth and with its established roots showing when required. Too many ‘classic one liners’ from non-Bond characters were not really necessary and take away from the humour of Brosnan’s well delivered quips.  I am wary to say “too much CGI” here as after seeing the extra features it would be hard to complain about the lack of real life action here however there was one scene in particular which just didn’t work for me – the surfing whilst paragliding scene was too fake.

The rest of the film technically is a testament to the people involved and while the story is not perfect, it does what it says on the tin and the sound blew me away. The extra features are great and I can safely say that this really is a magnificent two disc package. Fans might have been hoping for the world from this production, and sometimes even when you give it to them The World is Not Enough. Production might have scared The Living Daylights out of those involved, and it was good to see Bond set about the enemy again with A View to a Kill and fortunately for us Bond fan’s, 007 will return, to Die Another Day.

(Come on, how could I resist doing something like that!)


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